Have you ever thought about your relationship with food and your body? Have you jumped from one diet to the next only to find yourself in the same spot, if not worse?
It’s time to stop dieting and discover intuitive eating.
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is a way of eating that relies on your internal cues and signals for health and wellness. It is a framework developed by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resche (authors of the book Intuitive Eating) that helps chronic dieters break free from the cycle of dieting and heal their relationship with food and their body. It is not a diet, as diets involve external food rules, meal plans, calorie counting, and food portions. Instead, intuitive eating encourages you to tune into your own body signals and behaviors.
In essence, intuitive eating is normal eating. We are all born intuitive eaters. When babies cry, they eat, and stop eating when they are full. This is the same for toddlers. They eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. Some days they eat a lot and other days they barely eat, but overall their food balances out from week to week. However, as we grow older we encounter food rules and a diet culture that tells us what we should and shouldn’t eat. We learn that we must clean all our plate (even if we’re full), dessert is only a reward, and that sugar is a no-no. We learn that we need to lose weight to look a certain figure and that diets are the answer. We lose trust with food and feel guilty when we eat “bad” foods and pat ourselves on the back for eating “good” foods.
The result is an unhealthy relationship with food and our body. We jump from one diet to the next, experience yo-yo weight fluctuations, and are always thinking about food! We rely on external cues to guide us on what and what not to eat, sometimes without even knowing it.
Intuitive eating helps us take back control of our eating. It relies on rejecting the diet mentality, listening to our body and internal cues (i.e. hunger and fullness signal), giving ourselves permission to eat all foods without feeling guilty, and discovering the joy of eating. Intuitive eaters know when, what and how much to eat and when they feel like eating a salad or indulging in a brownie (without feeling guilty).
There are ten core principles of intuitive eating which will be explained below.
The Ten Principles of Intuitive Eating
1) Reject the diet mentality
The first step to becoming an intuitive eater is to get rid of the diet mentality and false hope of losing weight quickly, easy and permanently. Think about what your focus on diets and weight loss has taken you. Diets don’t work and can actually result in an unhealthy relationship with food characterized by binge eating, guilt, preoccupation with food, feelings of deprivation and a sense of a lack of willpower. It is not you that has failed; the diet failed you. Get rid of all the diet books, magazines and social media accounts that encourage diets or have ‘diet talk’. This is an essential step to rediscovering intuitive eating.
2) Honor your hunger
Feeding your body with enough energy and carbohydrates is a biological necessity. When you don’t eat enough food, that triggers intense cravings and a primal drive to overeat. When you’re excessively hungry it becomes much more challenging to be mindful of your food choices. Your body needs to know that it will consistently have access to food in order to rebuild that trust with food and yourself.
3) Make peace with food
Forget the words “good” foods and “bad” foods. All food is food. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods. If you tell yourself you can’t eat certain foods, your thoughts will become preoccupied with that food and you will feel uncontrollable cravings until you “give in” and eat that food, often times resulting in binge eating. The feelings of deprivation, followed by intense cravings, then followed by binge eating, can result in overwhelming guilt, which then leads to restriction and the start of the diet cycle all over again.
4) Challenge the food police
The food police is the internal thoughts you have in your head when you eat ‘good’ foods such as salads or ‘bad’ foods such as carbs/dessert/sugar, etc. These negative, guilt provoking thoughts and phrases appear as soon as your ‘off track’ and are created overtime from following diet rules. Becoming aware of these thoughts and challenging the food police is an important step to becoming an intuitive eater.
5) Feel your fullness
Feeling your fullness means listening to your body’s internal cues to tell you when you are no longer hungry (comfortably full but not stuffed). Be mindful as you eat your meal and snack and pause in the middle of eating to ask yourself how the food tastes and feels and to assess your fullness level.
6) Discover the satisfaction factor
Food is more than nourishment; it is pleasure. In an attempt to be thin and ‘healthy’ many have lost the joy and satisfaction in eating. When you become an intuitive eater and eat what you really want (ex. that real, rich ice cream instead of a low fat, low sugar version), you will discover pleasure and satisfaction from eating. Ironically you will notice that you will need less of the food to feel satisfied.
7) Cope with emotions without using food
Emotions such as anxiety, boredom, stress, loneliness or anger can cause you to eat certain “comfort foods” to help you cope, distract or resolve your emotional issues. Although they may comfort you for the short term, food does not solve these problem or feelings and in many instances will make you feel worse in the long run. Dealing with the source of the emotion and learning how to use non-food strategies to cope with your emotions is essential to becoming an intuitive eater.
8) Respect your body
Bodies come in all sizes and shapes. Respect your body at every moment and stage in time so you feel better about yourself. If you are unrealistic and overly critical of your body shape, it becomes hard to reject the diet mentality.
9) Exercise- feel the difference
The intention for exercise is important as you become an intuitive eater. Shift your focus away from exercising to burning calories and losing weight to how it makes you FEEL. Exercise can help you increase your energy levels, reduce stress, sleep better and make you happy. How does exercise make you feel? If your only goal is to lose weight that is usually not a very motivating factor for the long run.
10) Honor your health- gentle nutrition
Make food choices that honor your health but that also make you feel good. You don’t have to have the perfect diet every day. Indulging in a brownie or burger won’t cause you to suddenly gain weight or get a nutrient deficiency. It’s what you consistently eat over time that matters. Aim for progress, not perfection.
Note: as you dive into your intuitive eating journey and apply each of the principles, it is important to put weight loss on the back burner. As mentioned intuitive eating is not a diet and weight loss is not the focus. If during this process you lose weight as a result of tuning back into your internal cues, so be it. However intuitive eating is about healing your relationship with food and your body so that you experience a deeper quality of life and freedom from diets.
Would you like to learn more and become an intuitive eater?
If you are tired of yo yo dieting, dissatisfied with your body, and have an unhealthy relationship with food, applying the principles of intuitive eating can be life changing. Anyone can re-learn how to become an intuitive eater.
I offer intuitive eating nutrition coaching packages to help you through your journey to becoming an intuitive eater. Schedule a free call to see how I can support you rediscover the intuitive eater in you!